posted in: Painting | 1

 Da Vinci was one of the earliest artists to observe that we scan from one focal point to another searching for confirming information,  that we connect  a path of focus points into a stream which both constructs and anticipates information. We make guesses about what we are seeing, and check to confirm our guess  and keep checking until we don’t need to check ( a feedback loop).  Our guessing is determined by our expectation and our expectation is determined by the structure of our brain and our previous experience.  We do not take in the contents of our entire visual field.  Even when reading, at best we bring about 70% of a pages’s content into meaningful focus.  The brain  doesn’t and can’t pay attention to everything.  It pays attention to areas it expects to see and that it has known or knows how to identify, the stuff it can put into known categories.  We do not see what we don’t expect, what we don’t know  and, what we can’t make a guess at. The brain just ignores what it can’t identify. The average person smells thousands fewer scents than a trained nose at a perfume manufactuer.  The trained professional nose can identify more and can therefore expects more. As far as the untrained nose ( you and me) there are not thousands of different scents. All of our  sensations are linked to expectation. If by chance I am in a car and smell the tiniest whiff of an acrid odor  then, my brain will go through the categories it knows.  Its starts this process because we are drawn to anomalies, contrasts. (By the way there is no universally recognized bad smell.) The sieving of categories is quick and my brain settles on “skunk” smell.   As soon as I have determined that I smell a skunk then my sensations amplify the skunk smell and I begin to smell more skunk.  The sensation grows with identification and anticipation.  Pain, laughter, anger, and recognizing the diagram of a conifer tree all work this way.   Blue sweet water can taste like grape or blueberry just with anticipation.  I get a hint and make a guess from my base of categories and then amplify the sensation through my identification. Painting works like this too. I am able to identify if I get a hint.  I then amplify my experience of the hint.  It’s how an artist can render a forest or a meadow or a Persian carpet.  Artists don’t have to give me much information, just enough for me to make a guess and I ( the viewer) will amplify my guess into making  the  yellow scratches of paint into a thick meadow.  Vermeer does this with a woven carpet.  I can do all of my guessing and feeling with just meager hints.  In fact, if the informatin is too rigid and sharply defined I start getting suspicious; it’s not quite natural and right.  Without ambiguity  I do not sustain guessing.  As Da Vinci said ” Trying  to render detail  will  inhibit the experience of detail”.  As an artist, I generate a field of  vague and  tentative plausibility; the viewer does the rest.   In my example the grasses were not individually enumerated they were generated by creating a texture of vague plausibiility into which the viewer could begin guessing.

  1. Richard Kershaw

    “Vague plausibility” is such a meaningful, descriptive phrase for an artist to remember and utilize in his/her work. Thanks David.

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